I think I am safe in saying that there is not one Biblical woman in this day and age who has caused more controversy than the Proverbs 31 woman. Surely if she were here to see this, she would strongly object. If I truly know this woman (and I don’t), I think she would be embarrassed about all the attention she’s getting. And why her? I mean there are female prostitutes, murderers and deceivers found in the pages of Scripture and it seems like this woman is the only one being both criticized and praised.
If you’re not well acquainted with the Proverbs 31 woman, I invite you to read about her now, just so you have a better understanding of who she is. Let’s face it, she is an awesome woman. Because of this, she is taught as the standard for most youth group girls today. She is, at first glance, that perfect woman, perfect wife and perfect mommy that everyone loves. If she were around today she would have A+ kids, that husband that everyone knows and respects, and a perfect (but understated) home; she would run a successful Avon business and make cookies that were to die for. She would be that woman you want to hate, but you just can’t because she’s too darn nice.
She is however, unintentionally divisive. Some say, “She is so virtuous. Look how she cares for her family. Look at the hard work she does. Look at how she handles business and manages her household with such grace. Look how kind she is. We would all do well to learn from this amazing woman.”
Others say, “This woman is too busy. No way she can do all that! Her lamp never goes out? I’d like to know when she sleeps! How can she truly care for her family when she is so busy, focused on external affairs, stressed and sleep deprived?”
One thing is sure, like her or not, this lady is compelling. I have been on both sides of the camp. At times I have wanted to follow in her footsteps. At times, I have wanted to sneak into her workroom (decorated with cutesy ideas from Pinterest) and mess up all her perfect little piles of wool and flax.
At times I have prayed that I would become like her. At times, I have wanted to find her recipe box and add “1 cup of salt and vinegar eggplants” to the ingredient section of all her recipes. That would show her. That would pay her back for setting a bar that no woman has been able to reach for 3,000 years.
And I think of how others hold me to her standard. I have been told to emulate this woman since I was 13 years old! Anyone else feel like they can’t handle the pressure?
So I loved her, I hated her, I studied her, I questioned, I wondered and then I realized something. Look at this woman’s first name. Proverbs. She is straight out of the book of Proverbs, the book of wise sayings and practical advice, not concrete people, places and things. Now look at verse one of Proverbs 31 and look who wrote it. Yep, a momma. King Lemuel’s momma to be exact. Lemuel is not mentioned anywhere else in the Bible, so many believe it is actually another name for King Solomon (which would make the writer of this Proverb Bathsheba … interesting). Whoever Lemuel and his mom are, the point is that this is a mom telling her son the kind of women that are worth chasing — loving, hard-working, on-top-of-it, sacrificial and smart as a whip. What good momma isn’t going to tell her son to chase a woman like that?
But what that means is, like it or not, the Proverbs 31 woman is not actually a real woman. She is a collection of character traits that are good to find in a woman. So go ahead and criticize her, she doesn’t care because she doesn’t exist. Praise and applaud her efforts. She’s not there to receive them. If you feel like she has teased you by setting the bar inexplicably high, she hasn’t, because she is not real. So is there anything to learn from this woman after all?
If someone were to ask me to describe my husband, I would say that he is smart, funny, kind, hard-working, loving and a talented musician. I would say that he likes playing the guitar, hammocking, fishing and watching movies. Does that mean he is all of these characteristics, doing all of these things, at the same time? Is he a man who goes fishing from his hammock while keeping the crowds in stitches with his humor and in awe of his intellect, while watching Star Wars? Not quite. He doesn’t even usually do all of these activities in one day, but these are things that describe his personality, character and things he likes.
I imagine the Proverbs 31 woman, if she were real, wouldn’t live out a Proverbs 31 type day. She would probably manage her business some one day, then catch up on her housework the next day. I’ll bet on Sunday she would rest, worship her Creator and enjoy some time with her wonderful family. She might pull an all-nighter every once in a while for the sake of her family, but if she’s as kind as she supposedly is, you know that girl has to get some sleep!
So I’ve come full circle to say this: we should be developing the qualities we see in Proverbs 31 — a love of family, of God, of life, a hard-working attitude, a sense of readiness and respectability. But we don’t have to stress out about being everything Proverbs 31 describes all the time. I believe if you are seeking God, He will develop these qualities in you. After all, it is “God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose.”
You don’t have to do it all on your own strength. Stop living under the shadow of this personification of good character traits. Start following Jesus and let Him work in you.
I think if the Proverbs 31 woman were real and still around today, she wouldn’t try to fill you with guilt. She wouldn’t be the perfect Pinterest mommy and she wouldn’t look at you with disdain when you fail to measure up. I think she would look at the mother of the two preschoolers who is fighting to keep control and say, ‘You’re doing just fine.’ I think she would look at that single gal who’s waiting for Mr. 31 and say, ‘It’s worth the wait. There’s nothing wrong with you.’ I think she would look at the new wife who is trying to make just one dinner that is somewhat edible and say, ‘Don’t worry. You’ll get it. Oh, and by the way, you’re water’s boiling.’
Why do I think she’d be like that? Because we all know that, although fictional, she is a kind woman.